The city’s new zoning officer’s decision to designate half-dozen employees as zoning enforcers has triggered a labor dispute, halting zoning enforcement throughout the city, according to municipal sources.
“Nothing is getting enforced,” said one inspector who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
The issue began in late January. Zoning officer Glen Turi in a memorandum dated Jan. 23 designated seven housing inspectors to handle zoning enforcement.
On Jan. 31, the union that represents housing inspectors filed a grievance, arguing the promotion of the seven inspectors to handle zoning enforcement is a violation of its collective bargaining agreement.
“They want them to work out of title,” said Hazel Hughes, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3724. “Their title is housing inspectors.”
The seven inspectors picked by Turi do not have the credentials to handle zoning enforcement, said officials. It’s not clear how or why Turi picked the seven particular employees to handle zoning enforcement.
Turi has no authority over any of the inspectors, who work for the Community Improvement Division.
Turi declined to comment for this story via his colleagues at the zoning and planning office.
The enforcement of zoning laws fall outside the housing inspector’s job title. Hughes said the city also engaged in direct dealing, an unfair labor practice. A complaint was also filed with the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC), she said.
“That’s troubling. Those inspectors are critical,” said councilman William McKoy when told of the enforcement halt and labor dispute. He urged the administration to work on a speedy resolution to the problem.
“The Administration doesn’t comment on ongoing personnel issues except to say that the Mayor and his team are aware of these issues and are addressing them in the proper channels,” said mayor Andre Sayegh’s chief of staff Kathleen Long on Monday evening.
A meeting was scheduled last week to discuss the dispute, but it was cancelled after personnel director Michele Ralph-Rawls called in sick, according to officials.
The grievance states the union wants all the housing inspectors at the Community Improvement Divisions promoted to housing and zoning inspector title with a $6,000 base pay increase. There are 11 housing inspectors in the division.
“We want to negotiate,” said Hughes. “Post the jobs.”
Housing inspectors had customarily enforced zoning laws in the city without receiving extra compensation.
“The inspectors have taken an initiative to file a grievance for what they believe is what they are entitled to. We hold no animosity towards them. If they are entitled to it, they should get it,” said David Gilmore, director of Community Improvement.
Gilmore said inspectors continue to enforce such things as illegal attics and basements that place residents at risk.